Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some not-so-newbie mistakes...

Not sure if all of you know this, but I run an editing/critique service through my website ( So far, I've had several clients of varying strengths and weaknesses, all of which have held great promise! Not yet have I gotten a submission where I had to say "uhh, I can't help you" ;)

Working with new authors prompted me to start googling "common mistakes in fiction writing" to see if my clients were typical, and if the struggles I had when I was first starting out were typical. (and found some were and some of mine were...not. hahahah)

I came across this website with these fabulous tips that I thought I would share today, to help us brush up on some basics. Because sometimes, even veteran authors can get lazy and make the below mistakes, when we KNOW better.

There are more points made on the site ( but I wanted to focus today on the first three. Below are the points and the website's content for each. I'll chime in with my point of view afterward in bold.

•No Hook

Where's the Hook? Ever read a book that makes you yawn by the end of page one? Yeah, me too. Usually, I'll try another page or two, but if the author hasn't gotten to the tension by then, I give up. So, rule number one: make sure you have a hook. Start at a point of drama or tension. Drop us off the cliff into the conflict on page one, or we'll walk!

Betsy here - This is a BIGGIE. Because just like the writer said above, if the story isn't interesting, we're not going to care. Not the agent, editor, or later, the reader. So be sure to start your story with a bang. This doesn't mean a bomb or a dead body or something huge (unless you're writing suspense/thrillers, then go for it! hehe) but it just means something relatable, something interesting, something to make the reader ask questions and want to learn more and turn pages. That is the #1 goal - to turn pages. Never forget that. Sometimes as authors we're tempted to start the story with a lot of backstory, feeling the pressure to introduce the character we know and love so well to the reader, who doesn't yet know or love them. But remember, the reader will get to know the character through the book's journey. Think snippets!

•No Hero

Who's In Charge Here? Along the same lines... have you read any books that start with a meandering description of the room or the scenery, maybe with an unnamed character somewhere on the tapestry that's being woven, but otherwise "lifeless"? Right. Mistake number two. Not introducing your hero or heroine right away. Within one or two pages max. Or, if you want to live dangerously - and you can do it well - show us your antagonist right away, instead. Plotting something devious or committing a crime. Remember, dump us into the action.

Betsy here - the above is great advice. I love when suspense/thriller novels start with the bad guy's POV. SO exciting! But the same point can be done in romance or YA or historicals or whatever - the point of introducing us to a key character in the story RIGHT AWAY. A few lines of opening description can be fine, but put your hero/heroine/antagonist IN that scenery. You might be able to wax poetic for two pages about the beauty of the rolling, floral-coated hills, but you know what? No one's going to care if there isn't a hunky hero riding a horse through those flowers or a bad guy crouching in that bush with a gun or a heroine strolling over those plains...

•No Motive

Why Did She Do That? I'm sure you've seen the next of the common fiction writing mistakes, too. You're reading along, minding your own fantasy when out of the blue, your favorite character turns 180 degrees south when she should have been going north. Don't be caught with your character's pants down. Make sure they have a motive for their actions. Or we're going to toss that book aside for the next episode of our favorite TV slop.

Betsy here - This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine when reading, and one I'm super careful with in my novels and extra hard on with my critique partners - STAY TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTER. If your character is super timid and shy and hates crowds and attention, then for heaven's sake, don't put her on stage with a microphone and have her entertaining the crowd on karaoke night! Now, it'd be one thing if her friends tricked her on stage or she was trying to break free of her fears, and got up there and totally choked - that's staying true to character! Putting our characters in their worst nightmare is a big part of fiction writing and successful conflict.

Also, don't get me wrong - there comes a time in a LOT of books where its part of the character's journey to branch out and do something scary for them. But that change needs to slowly occur throughout the book, needs to be a journey - not a third chapter revelation. Does that make sense? Make it real. Make it relatable. If you were overcoming a fear in real life, odds are you'd work up to it and take baby steps and make small goals along the way to get there. So would your characters...

That's it for today! I'd love to hear what you thought of these points. Do you struggle with them? Any questions? Scribblechicks are here to help! :)


  1. Great points! Betsy, a story/character with no motive is a pet peeve of mine also. Sometimes writers tend to base their protag's actions from how them as the author want the story to go rather than what the character would really do.

    Thanks for sharing these! =)

  2. Thanks Tessa! I like your blog :) You'll have to let us know when your YA releases!

  3. Just wanted to give a little testimonial of what an amazing critic/editor you are. It never seems like you have several clients 'cause you're so awesome that we feel like you don't do anything else with your life but answer to our emails! :) When we know you're a very very busy lady. I know God will reward you in Heaven (and here on Earth) for all the work you do for Him and so many other people!

  4. Those who want to write a novel.. there is an awesome course to take. It IS a highschool course but it doesn't seem like one.

    By the time you have finished the course you will end up with a full novel that is ready to be printed at a local printers. It is an awesome step-by-step book if you are looking for help.